Grace; the central event in the life of the church

In Church Dogmatics I.1 pp. 65ff, Karl Barth describes the activity of grace as the central event in a church’s life.  By “grace” he means “the presence of the holy God among unholy men… [where] the free Word of God…reaches its goal in the equally free hearing of men, the hearing of faith.”(p.68)  When the power of Word meets the heart of faith, lives change!  The “tool” that facilitates this “event” is “proclamation”.  According to Barth, proclamation is not simply “talk about God in church or teaching in Sunday school” but that special calling laid on the heart of God’s anointed to preach.  Even more though it is not words that enliven hearts but the Lord Jesus as His Spirit enlightens those same hearts through His word.

Barth contrasts this with the Roman Catholic view on grace as the central event in the life of the church.  “But it [Roman Catholic view] understands by grace, not the connexion (sic) between the Word and faith, but the connexion between a divine being as cause and a divine-creaturely being as effect…as a physical not a historical event…Proclamation obviously can not be the term for this event.  Grace here neither is (and remains) God’s free and personal word nor is (and remains) hearing faith…Man neither needs to listen to a Word of God already spoken nor to wait for a Word of God yet to be spoken.  Faith neither has to grasp the promise made as made by God nor to wait for a fulfillment still to come…and naturally preaching has to be forced into that particular backwater.”(pp. 68-69)

Thus consider your experience of grace as in the Word of faith through proclamation or as an object of cause and effect through sacrament, a distinction of life changing import.


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